Someone recently contacted me asking for my opinion on study abroad in Japan. This person is current in University and has the opportunity to study at IUC Japan, Nanzan University (or any other large Japanese school with an exchange program), or the Kyoto Consortium.
I have studied at both Nanzan (in 2001) and IUC (in 2007-8) so I can speak to those. I have never studied at the Kyoto program, but I still have something to say about it – so read on!
There are two major differences between IUC and a program like Nanzan that must not be ignored.
IUC has an extremely intensive language program where your classmates will be other English speaking foreigners – mostly graduate students or professional adults.
Nanzan has an average difficulty language program where your classmates will be students from all over the world, (in my day we had folks from the UK, Tibet, Indonesia, Korea, the USA, and more!) and you will also have access to a campus full of Japanese students your age.
These are important differences.
To get right to the point… unless you have already lived in Japan and the whole “exchange student” experience is irrelevant to you, I strongly recommend a program like Nanzan over IUC.
As an exchange student at Nanzan University (and other universities as well) you will learn first hand about Japanese culture from Japanese people your age, make friends, and experience a Japanese university environment. Nanzan University even has a school dorm where foreigners and Japanese can live together. Alternatively, you can arrange a home stay (like I did) and live with a Japanese family. IUC does not provide housing, so you’ll be living somewhere in the city and may or may not have neighbors who want to talk to you.
The ability to interact with Japanese students is a huge plus. At a place like Nanzan you’ll learn Japanese slang, you’ll notice differences between Nagoya dialect and standard Japanese, and you’ll have a chance to live in a Japanese city that’s not Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, or Osaka. You’ll get to eat in the school cafeteria with Japanese students! I cannot stress that enough. Being a student in a Japanese university as a foreigner is nothing but fun.
Now, if your only goal is to become extremely accurate and proficient in advanced Japanese then you can do no better than IUC. The teachers are top notch, the curriculum is insanely rigorous, and the texts are great. Nanzan has a solid program for sure, but it’s a Japanese university. Japanese universities, frankly, are not up to the academic standards of U.S. universities. (Not sure about other parts of the world, I went to U.S. university so I’ll speak to what I know.)
IUC is located in Minatomirai in Yokohama, a very business and consumer oriented location where Japanese students do not hang out. You’re not going to randomly make Japanese friends easily while studying at IUC. In fact, you likely won’t have the time to make any friends at IUC if you plan to keep up with your work! The curriculum is extremely busy. I’ll say it again. Busy. Frankly, the entire environment is very sterile and you would have to go out of your way to find the “real” Japan and get down with the locals.
One last note on the Nanzan versus IUC debate. If you’re going to be studying Japanese for the long haul, note that most students at IUC are people who have already lived in Japan for quite some time. Many of them are in the middle of phd programs, and many (like me) have already done exchange programs in Japanese universities prior. The point is, if you’re a university student now you can study abroad during your university career, and then go to IUC later in life. This is completely normal, and probably the better way to do it. Unless maybe you’re in a mad hurry to develop excellent Japanese skills… then maybe IUC is warranted.
I do not know much about the Kyoto program, but I can say that Kyoto is an absolutely beautiful place. Passing up the opportunity to live and study in Kyoto will be something that you’ll kick yourself for one day, I can guarantee. Not that the education will be any better, but Kyoto is just a marvelous place and few people ever get the chance to live there.
The opportunity to live in Kyoto does not present itself very often. Most foreigners end up in Tokyo, Osaka, or Kobe. That’s just where the opportunities happen to be. As a linguist studying in Kyoto would be interesting because you could learn the unique Kyoto version of Kansai dialect. I love Kansai-ben, so maybe I’m biased. Even if you’re not a linguist it’s hard to beat Kyoto as a place to really absorb the mix of modernity and history that is Japanese culture.
Man, all this talk is making me nostalgic!
Does anyone else have any opinions on this topic? Where would you study if you had the opportunity?
Here is a pretty comprehensive list of language schools in Japan. Thanks to @rich_pav for this link!
Nanzan School Festival
IUC in Yokohama as an Advanced Student
Japanese School Recommendations
A picture from Nanzan University Gakusai (School Festival) in 2004
Nanzan University Gakusai 2004